The IoT Show

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bay Area Facebook Meetup - Facebook App Valuation by Lee Lorenzen

I usually write about entrepreneur related stuff in this blog but have been writing a lot about Facebook because of the startup energy I see in the Facebook economy.

Last thurs Ont 25th 70 of us gathered at AOL in Mountainview over Pizza.

The Facebook Entrepreneurs:
We saw 2 cool Facebook App demos with very honest experiences shared by the developers.
Demo1 - Pumpkin App by Samit. He said he was learning viral play with getting a Pumpkin App as a quick test case.
Demo2 - Treat Someone by Sammara and Raymond. Virtual Gift App with appealing graphics.

Facebook App Valuation by Lee Lorenson of Altura Ventures, the first official Facebook Only Venture Fund (of $250M fund)
Its turned out to be one of those rare evenings where a speaker is smart, articulate and truly connected with the audience and engaged in an open discussion.




These here are what I personally gleamed out of the discussions, I have a habit to focus on what makes me think and connect with other stuff I read or come across.

1. Look at Lee sharing his excitement about why he thinks Facebook valuation is worth $100Bil really.

Lee was honest to admit he wants Facebook to buy shop.com as the universal shopping cart he is proposing as he still owns 20% of shop.com.

2. Lee shared his guerrilla marketing tactics of how he built his facebook network to get Altura Ventures differentiated among the budding influencers of Facebook economy.

3. Bulk of his talk was centered on building valuation into a Facebook Application.
Lee is ready to talk to developers who have 10K users to broken a sale of their app.
He uses his Adonomics App (which he purchased along with the developer to form the consulting arm of his business), he'll evaluate the price based on this formula (link to his blog).

4. What was most thought provoking was his example of how he planned to go about finding buyers for Apps that interest him.

  • Most of Facebook developers who make real $$$ today make it based on Ads, some are making transient money by offering referral users for 50cents/click for new App developers.
  • Lee said he likes Apps like 'Treat Someone" which can link to real world brands.
  • He gave the example of "I am hungry facebook application" which was sold on ebay for $20K with 250K users. He said it was low.
  • Actions I take in a commerce setting are passive product endorsement.
  • He suggested morphing the App to match a potential sponsor and talking it to their Ad agency. He said " I am hungry" could have set a default restaurant as MacDonald or Steak House which the user could change if they wished and majority won't change the default. He would have taken "I am hungry" to McDonald or Steak house Ad agency for a sponsorship as a buyer.

5. Lee's Bullish Ideas about Facebook Economy:
  • Lee was very bullish about building Apps on Facebook. He said it was not like the California Goldrush, it was more like th Oklahoma land grab.
  • Fb is a chance to reinvent the web with a traffic cop around.
  • Reinvent the web on top of social web.
  • Messaging in Facebook is better than email with no spam. I love this part, see my past post about Social Email Graph and Facebook here.
  • Anything thats big on the web that can be re invented on FB
  • Facebook restrictions are the beauty of inventing the platform along the way.

6. Why FB will win, worth $100B valuation
===============================
  • FB identities are real. Myspace are fantasy form of who you want to be.
  • Fb is not a way to meet a bunch of strangers, its a way to bring your real relationship online.
  • BJ Fogg book on Influence says 'Fb genuis - Big ugly question mark, empty wall" when you get started.
  • Users teaching new users, making it engaging.
  • Import people who really know from AOL email account, coaching from friends, not fb telling me what to do.

7. Thoughts on other Myspace opening platform
Myspace can't do newsfeed, fb 7 times more tham myspace.
There are Adnetworks today. Facebook should give developer a fb monetizing tag (like an open adsense)

8. Advice to users on viral play:
What kills viral play - complexity, making users think, need user to type (show radio buttons)
Application fatigue - don't believe in it.

Lee shared a wonderful marketing book on Influence, which I hope to find and update here, anyone who knows the book or Lee's cliff notes please let me know.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Designing for Virality and Retention from SNAP Summit

Blogging live from SNAP Summit 2007. Similar panel to the Viral Strategy - News Feed Optimization(NFO) from Social Graphic Pattern

  • Moderator: Susan Wu, Partner, Charles River Ventures
  • Keith Schacht; Developer, Grow-a-Gift
  • Dave McClure, Master of 500 Hats
  • Jia Shen; CEO, RockYou, have 26M users 50% of total Facebook users among 26 Apps.
  • Mark Kantor; Developer, Graffiti
Good set of smart guys know Facebook Virality, Jia keeps going to mathematical analysis, lot of quick discussion, I am not doing justice capturing all of them

Define Virality from each member of the panel:

  • Keith - Conversion from each install, for each user who installs how many new users do they convert.
  • People who are referring, rate of conversion of people invited
  • Jia - Mathematical equation - how many people using it
  • Two types of virality - personal reason to invite friends, other is wanting to showoff to friends, most apps are the latter.
Viral Channels

  • Jia - On Myspace, Inprofile virality concept of self-expression, bulletins (equiv of scripting invite friends), In facebook, there are 14 viral channels.
  • Earlier it was just sending an message to join. Now its grown with not showing a friend's message in an invite.
  • Keith - Diff between Viral and Stickyness: Look at the stats of App, the one with new users and returning users is more sticky.

Dave McClure - Two types of virality

1. Active - Invite, Notification, Request, wave effect initially
2. Passive referrals - people looking at profile, mini feed activity. eg is Fluff friends App. Currently App messages are not visible for people who haven't installed App, if facebook adds this it can increase virality more.

Use A-B Testing on messaging.

Jia Shen - All facebook built in 2 stages, first to test out the concept and initial viral acceptance, then focus on engagement.
Lot of developers now focusing on engagement which helps with virality better.
Draw out diff kind of channels for your App and track on per install viral channel for each.

Keith Schacht: Developer, Grow-a-Gift

  • Track all granular details number of users, track forst 10-20 clicks as soon as user enters an App, right from start.
  • Grow-a-Gift was viral, we were lucky. Found 20% of invites converted to installs, 10% of feed converted to install so tweaked to make it better.
  • Hatching Egg, now added Dog Egg
  • Facebook promised to clear out all notification.

Best practices

  • - Value of a facebook user is more than a web site user.
  • - Photflexer (I am hearing their name 3rd time this year) is an example which can do more by challenges and games to engage groups of friends.
  • - Dave - Startup metrics for pirates from Ignite talk applies to facebook too.
  • In feeds - create messages based on app action, you can include upto 4, use a button like graphic mimic the psycology of facebook Apps, RockYou and Slide do it well.
  • - Using FBNames in actual message itself - the ability to refer a person in the message will work.
  • - Show interaction of two friends by name, can be seen by networks of both friends. Show list of multiple friends grouped together in a message, so more people can see it.
  • - Keep invitation as part of the meaning of the App, thats long term whats most important.
  • Design for user interaction binary or multi-person interaction.

Variability and Conversion Rates:
  • New invite system from last thurs, users has to enter user names so facebook has riased the bar that user has to be more passionate about the App to send invites to friends.
  • If you send an invite you are restricted to 20, show selection that has higher conversion rate eg people in relationship accept invites more, we got 30% conversion.

Metrics:
  • Measure conversions daily or hourly, conflicting discussion the value. Jia thinks too much of these stats do not matter from a monetization stand point.
  • Dave's suggestion to study engagement in 30 days similar to Ad industry.
  • Analytics - Google Analytics is good, use simple SQL statements , track dots in images, grouping by min or 5 min. Google Analytics can log events for Rich Media not just pageviews
  • Jia - Its totally possible to do Multi-variant analysis like invites, how many wall posts etc.

Questions:

Top 5 viral channels:
Invite, minifeed, application name word phrase should be self-descriptive one word, profile action, default profile action (when u browse other people's action that shows there)

How many Developers - Customer acquired /developer :
  • 4-5 full-time, 3 of them developers, 20Mil Facebook users
  • Jia - RockYou 20 people, 4-5 business people, 5-6 developers
  • Dave about Stanford class 25 teams of 3, one developer
  • Keith 3 full time, 3 part-tim1. 1.5 people doing development, 6Mil users.
  • Users get excited about App, one person should be devoted to an App on the creative side.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Social Email Graph (SEG) Yahoo's low hanging fruit

This is part 3 on my Social Email Graph(SEG) series. (part 1 SEG industry analysis here, part 2 SEG = facebook here)

Yahoo! You own the web email world with 250Mil of 500Mil web email users. Stay the king of email by strengthening it with SEG!!!

I think Yahoo has an advantage here over gmail, MS and AOL for the same reason that Y! suffered focus earlier because it had spread itself to many verticals solving many segments as a portal play.

Most ideas discussed around "tapping into the social graph" by the large web based providers today is centered on the idea of asking users to add profile information and finding friends from email interaction.

Yahoo can take it forward as a 2-step process:

Step1 : Find the user's social graph in user's emails:

Build metrics and learn the social pattern of a user's network by association, frequency and persistency.
- track user frequency of emailing someone
- association of users by being cced in emails
- association of being part of email groups for a particular user.
- allow user to tag users when they email based on repeated pattern. I prefer tagging over categories because the same person maybe related under different tags.
For example, I email my Mommy friend as "mommy friends" email group, no connection amongst them, but there is a pattern from my relationship to them - I see them all as Mommys (apart from whatever they are in life) so I can send them the next "William Overture for Moms". You cannot ask me to categorize them, they will fall under family, friends, colleague etc which does not do justice to my real social relationship with them using email today.
- people who a user chats with messenger from email get to see their status change and are part of one group, in an inner circle.
- people who a user responds to a chat quickly are again a privileged category of friends.
- spam list of users, stalled list of users whose chats are not responded quickly.

It maybe that I am part of a Y! Group with some of these friends subsets and Y! can track and build upon that to connect with rest of Yahoo - later!

The easiest application of these metrics is friends finder, maybe cool for early adopters to find friends in different categories and tag or categorize them. Wheres the sustainable value to users from this exercise and how can yahoo lockin these users for competitive advantage?

Step 2: Present opportunities to do what user does intuitively in her real social graph.

Travel, Shopping, Finance are all social activities where we exchange emails researching, collaborating, purchasing and finalizing logistics of our plans with different set of friends.

Some friends influence the purchase decisions, some contribute to research data with search from web or sharing pictures, and a select few get to consume the experience with us.

Example:
Your travel plans maybe initiated by looking at your friends' Hawaii picture.
When you research, you check in with friends on their best deals for reference to sources.
Your review session with friends are different from review session with family or friend who is traveling with you to make purchase decisions.
On purchase you exchange emails on logistics of travel, not to mention you start the review cycle again to begin your experience of consumption of the travel.

The more I think about it, Autos, Tech, Movies, Music are all similar with some, more intense in
email communication involving reviews, while most are intense in the peer influencing communication, and all involving purchase and consumption with different sets of friends.

Yahoo can bring rest of yahoo network to layer upon email, building upon the SEG.
Add different use cases of user behavior based on the SEG metrics collected and offer new value added products and services.

The trick is to present it as a clean UI, with simple intuitive usability.

Users will adapt the best solution from anyone be it a large or small company, from existing email or social networking company where the user can "simply be themselves", they can bring more and more of their real self to their online world, the most important part of their online world, their email.

Social Email Graph (SEG) = Facebook

This is part 2 in my series on Social Email Graph (SEG) - the solution to capturing our real world social graph to online world which is embedded in our email activities.

What Facebook has done well is let users take their social behavior from the real world and translate it to the online world on Facebook. Ok, they have done this well for younger crowd and have smartly opened their platform for the older crowd to bring their behavior to Facebook thru Apps.

I pay for my y! mail and use gmail with gtalk daily for totally different set of communications. But, increasingly I find myself using Facebook Inbox Messaging for my email with my Facebook friends.

Luke of Facebook sowed the seeds in my mind with his blog about switching email to Facebook Inbox. He said "there's no need to switch between Facebook and email for your daily communication needs” and “I am never going to use gmail again!" That’s a lofty goal, but given how I am drawn to switch my entire web world to start from Facebook without Facebook folks even marketing to users to do it, this is the first time (I saw) that Facebook asked me to switch from a web app - my email.

Heres what Facebook Inbox team can do to extend to SEG:

  • First the usability of inbox has to improve. Facebook provides basic threading of messages, but that’s nothing as cool as gmail but it’s an important start. Ability to organize messages with clean UI, being able to search and get to past messages is a must.


  • Allow tagging and categorizing Inbox messages based on friends messaged.


  • I spoke to Chamath Palihapitiya of Facebook after his panel at Social Graphing Pattern and he said Facebook did not build Inbox using email (using SMTP) because they want to protect the privacy of users. One example he gave was that with an email you could forward an email from a friend to another friend without the consent of the first friend, hence they don't support forwarding in Inbox. Valid point!


  • Facebook has implemented emailing from Facebook Inbox or Event RSVP brilliantly to create viral play while preventing spam of Facebook users. (see pictures of the non-facebook user's experience here)


In my mobile middleware startup Coola in 2000, we had amazing success with a “Send to friend” Coolet (a Coolet was a widget code on a web page that a user clicked to send pieces of web content into a friend’s Palm App via the web) where we used email for invites but restricted the usage unless the recipient signed to our service Coola leading to 1Mil user registrations quickly.

I can see how Facebook has brought viral play but avoided building two messaging threads on Facebook and our email client trying to bring everyone to Facebook platform. I believe in Facebook platform, but do not believe the whole world will switch out of a standard like email to Facebook. So, Facebook should provide better support to other email systems with the convenience of the user in mind.

  • Facebook Inbox can become a social email only when Facebook users can start using it in lieu of email AND do intuitively all that I use email to do using my social graph of the real world. So, following email protocol to match up with email is not enough.

Facebook should open up FB API to access inbox with capabilities to allow using inbox as email but allowing the user to make associations of groups, events and repeated usage of trusted friends.

For example if I reply to a message received, allow the option to add them as friend, filter as spam etc.

  • User joining groups and RSVP to events is similar to email play on facebook but each group or fellow members have an association with each other. In fact its common these days to meet people at events and send them a friend request to join facebook, similar to event specific alumni groups on linkedin which is a type of friend/social relationship.
  • When a user signs up for an event, allow association with members of that group (similar to networks today), which is part of the social email graph.
  • On receiving or replying to a message allow assignment to trusted circles as specific school, work, kids school, church etc.
  • Build in metrics to track repeated messaging between friends, replying or ignoring messaging from certain friends and allow user to choose their behavior to define the circle of this friend. This can be taken one step further to allow specific actions appropriate for that segment of friends. This last item is best done by App developers catering to a wide range of social circumstances instead of being built by Facebook.


  • Then Facebook truly becomes a platform, bringing all our social interaction hidden in today's communication to let our real social graph of the world flow through Facebook and reach the whole world.

    Tomorrow, lets look at how email players can evolve and extend to SEG play.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Social Email Graph (SEG) bringing all real social interactions online for all ages - Part 1

I cannot get this thought out of my head from the OpenFace panel from Social Graphing Pattern) (Dave, why do you organize such conferences and make us think so we cannot sleep for days?)

I've blogged this live; Chamath Palihapitiya's vision of Facebook is Huge! Inspiring!"- There is one real social network of 6Bil people in the world, we want all social information to flow through Facebook and reach the whole world"

Email is still the killer app of the net with all its limitations. I remember Om Malik saying at Web2.0 Expo in April07, "wish someone would make an email client that will help organize my work flow based on what interaction I follow to get a job done”.

It’s the Social Email Graph (SEG) as I'd like to call it.


Is the solution of tapping your email social graph an evolution for email companies or is it a transition out of email clients as we know them, into an existing social network (like Facebook) or is it a new product that offers email functionality with facility to tap into the social graph?

Who can bag this business? I am torn between my belief in building an open connected web and the business sense that every company would want to get users from another network, but lock in into itself to creative competitive advantage.

The entrepreneur in me says it is possible for any of them and it is a question of execution will power for existing companies or a startup (in stealth) or yet to be born! So I present all scenarios on what I see each player can do to provide a solution to get us - the consumers the best Social Email Graph (SEG) asking for minimum change in behavior and providing maximum value.

A new startup as a SEG player?

A new startup can create a new product that provides email's social graph use cases and current email functionality in one or can add a layer on top of existing email client to add a layer of social networking capabilities. Tim O'Reilly mentioned xobni at the Social Graphing Pattern conference. There is buzz about them because of being techcrunch40, they seem to be working with Outlook API for corporate customers asking us to include our emails to their close invitation list.

Yahoo and Google as SEG players?

I am more of a Y! mail and gmail user and they cover 500Mil users on the web which personally interests me more than Outlook and LotusNotes as a consumer. Y! Mail and Gmail have open APIs, and for what is not open, it is easy to screen scrape for smart developers.

So whats possible with Y! mail or Gmail is possible by any startup or by the companies themselves.

Lets not forget, Facebook can extend into the Social Email Graph (SEG) with its messaging.

As I started writing this article, Kevin Delaney and Vauhini Vara of WSJ wrote about what Yahoo,Google and AOL are going to do to make a social App out of email. I am a Kevin Delaney fan and am thrilled that it validates my thinking.

I'd like to take it one step further.

The real winner to grab the Social Email Graph (SEG) world will have to go beyond finding friends in email networks to providing means to bring more of their real social graph interactions online.

Lets look at it indepth for each player to understand strategic opportunities tomorrow. Got to grab some sleep now!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Structured and Open Web leading to Interconnected Open Social Graphs

I followed a Curious George trail starting from this good story about the Structured Web from my facebook newsfeed, from a shared link posted byDave McClure.

I liked the article, the last line said "liked this article Digg it" and I Digged it. Digg asked me to login to my Digg account and I did. I saw a "Blog It" link and clicked on expecting to see several steps to select my type of blog, select the actual blog and then post it with some of my original words ....

Guess what, thats it! Digg had this blog URL linked (guess I must have provided it sometime). The blog post was created, and because I've setup this blog to import into my Facebook notes, you see it on facebook.

I am impressed at how seamless it was and see this as an example of how we can build a connected web as sites(what will they be called when Web3.0 is called something else ;-)) build connected services upon each other's APIs to let users exhibit their natural behavior seamlessly, be it sharing content (like this example) by blogging or perform transactions across sites or encourage their discovery on the web.

What comes in the Way?
What comes in the way is the incentive for businesses to build an Open web.

The Open Social Graph panel discussion from day before still keeps ringing in my mind. I blogged it live here.

Offering APIs to provide integrated services benefits businesses. Most APIs today allow users to bring in their profiles and addressbooks from other services to migrate to their new site and help themself grow. eg links to find friends from your y! or gmail or accounts.

Chamath of Facebook eloquently put Facebook's dream's loftier than Google "We want all social information to flow through facebook and
reach the whole world", which means a 2-way flow not the one-way platform as we know Facebook platform today.

Joseph Smarr of Plaxo did an awesome job translating what how each nuanced reply from the panelists meant to the user. The panel stopped short of moving to any possible action to open to make a truly Open Social Graph.

Its a huge entreprenerial opportunity for new ideas from big and small companies alike and I am charged, excited and restless and a little lost.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Viral Strategy panel: Invites, Notifications, & News Feed Optimization (NFO)

I am blogging live - this is one of the best panels of the conference so far

Justin Smith, InsideFacebook (moderator),
Panelists: Jia Shen RockYou, Blake Commagere Mogads / Zombies, Jason Beckerman TeachThePeople.com / Lotto, Tim O’Shaughnessy Hungry Machine

-No control on who sees your news feeds , no stats on impressions or click-thrus.
- Invites earlier open so early App developers grew to millions, no restricted to 20/day 10 at a time. No stats from facebook on who saw invites so developers have to build in metrics each.
- No transparency on what notifications is trapped as spam by facebook.

Blake Commagere (Zombie) - Best Quote of the Day "Nobody should doubt the power of the newsfeed"
- Optimized invites, provided clear incentive to user to checkout App, worth A-B testing.
-Notifications - didn't leverage much. Use it not as viral tool but to keep user engagement.
-Newsfeeds are seen by non-app users too, so accomodate app users and non- app users with messaging.
- Would like to aggregate friend's engagement of app as a single news feed (like profile updates are listed by facebook)

Tim O’Shaughnessy:
- His App requires active choice from user.
- If same event has two codes for same feed based on whether the user has app installed or not it would be nice (lot of discussion about how newsfeed is a blackbox)

Jia Shen

Invites - to grow app virally, tried multi variant analysis to understand target users guys/girls and tuned apps. People who are in relationship accept invites, people who have 20+ wall posts accept invites more readily, that means they are core facebook users and have active friends.
notification and news feeds are to engage user
mini-feeds - changing different graphics that correlate with the feed item increased user-clicks.
What number would you tune in your App: Track number of mini feed events sent, number of user actions base don the mini-feed.
Notifications - we don't use when we launch new apps, or can be blocked as spam quickly.

Jason Beckerman

Was built on daily engagement from start, which mini-feed helps well.
Give bonus ticket for weekly jackspot, different jackspot prize value on min-feeds.
Built out metrics - is it from new users or from core users, trying to find what $prize brought good viral response.

Question by Dave McClure - If facebook turned on feed notification to non app users how will it change for each develope, will they user invites better?

Should Virality be part of the app, what if its a utility app and not naturally viral?

How many users drop off because it requires invites of multiple friends?

Lee Lorenzen Altura Ventures had a VC like question - how would it affect virality if facebook reports the uninstalls of apps? It brought a nice finish to the panel with response from all panelists.
Blake of Vampire has 13% uninstall, but its hasn't affected its use, its not an interesting stats for users. Jia thinks the stats are not for user, it is for industry. He thinks how long a user kept the App before uninstalling would be more interesting stats.

AppNite awards winners at Social Graphing Pattern conf

Saw Demo of all these 3 at lunch time today at Social Graphing Pattern conf.

  1. Yay! Robert Fan from our facebook meetup won $1K for his The Game App
  2. Chris built an App in 34 hrs Judge-O-Rama, its like a compare app comparing friends to rate. (wish facebook would make it easy to search apps, I am unable to find it on facebook, someone ping me when you do)
  3. Visual Bookshops find Amazon recommendation and adds their own reco based on Social Graph.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Social Graphing Pattern - the Facebook conference

I am at Dave McClure's Social Graphing Pattern Conference, helping Chris Heuer with the organization of the OpenFace Day today.

Lot of entrepreneurial energy, I love it.

Keynote by Reid Hoffman: (updated with Reid's presentation here)


Reid spoke about Facebook as a Platform. He covered the general trend in a nice summary:
- Facebook stays fresh because of new Apps coming up with its open platform
- Facebook has done well with taking Flickr one-step further with Photo by adding friends tagging, he says FB app developers need to take that genius to other apps to build on sharing.
-Some Apps are extending into the web, eg Y! Music used Rockyou widgets to launch its music on fb and the aquisition of "Where I've Been" by Tripadvisor.

Audience had questions about Linkedin building Facebook Apps and he said they have one App as a test case without much traction and will launch more if it helps their customers and users.
On a question about whether Facebook will see some commerce activity, he qualified that he doesn't like to make predictions but thought that social networks will support Commerce couple years down the line and he doesn't see facebook evolving to that now.

Marketing - Charlene Li (updated with her real presentation here)

Charlene Li of Forrestor spoke eloquently about marketing facebook apps and had great stats.

Rock You CEO Lance Toduka (real presentation here)

- Third party Distribution enables success eg. Showcased how Rockyou helped Y! Music pickup traction, Launched a new CBS Widget last thurs.
- Facebook is the best distribution platform, 7x better than MySpace
- Distribution is till hard - only 1% succeed

On questions on managing load at 1M users, he thought Amazon AWS was good though RockYou doesn't use it, they use MySQL and facebook takes lot of the load based on the app design.
Question on building viral play he said:
a. Build Invite as part of App
b. Call for action for receiver of invitation too
c. Use news feeds effectively
d. Use colorful buttons like Continue - -> worked to increase viral play for them.





Saturday, September 15, 2007

Facebook and Firebox - Which is the Real platform and for Who?

I am one of you who shares the dream of an inter-connected Web where:
- A site and Web Application are not different terminologies
- Everything is online and accessible from anywhere
- A user uses the web site for what its meant to do without stopping to think of technology and setting up or downloads etc. (I am thinking of a seamless user experience here)
- Web Apps are built seamlessly upon one another - extending todays' world of Open Source, XML, APIs (real ones which offer the developer time saving and reliability)

So all this platform talk excites me wondering if the era is on where we can really get there!

You all know my excitement of Facebook as a platform, many of you have been nice to share your preview of Facebook Apps everyday.

I work on a Mac, use no browser other than Firefox and love to try every technology (sleep takes away some of my day) every time I can get in the web - hosted, digital delivery, content world.

Facebook - Whose Platform is it?

Lets get out of the Myth that its cheap to build a Facebook App, a prototype, yes. A real app which can take million users requires all the same 3 tier architecture, load balancing and handling caching problems, which adds to the cost. But yes, you can build an App with no users and put it to the market in 1-2 weeks to scale to 100K users fast and cheap!

Facebook is a Product Manager's dream because it offers easy access to a user's social graph.

Like the web brought publishing technology closer to a non-technical content publisher, facebook is a marketers dream. I am amazed at how easily Facebook developers today talk about "that is not my profile of users" or "engaging users" discussions segmenting user targets, under standing their needs, typing in feedback mechanism to incorporate user needs to product, and positioning discussions of differentiating and calling for action into the social graph.

Most Facebook Apps today are technologies, not really productized. The successful ones are - intentionally or unintentionally productized for an audience segment.

These are my 5 stpes for every Facebook App to be productized to tap into the social graph:

  1. Build invitation to friends as part of the product (like Booze-mail "send a drink" or Zoo "send an animal").
  2. Display a pleasant image and clear messaging with call for action in the profile box. This is where new users get to hear about your application, users care *a lot* about what goes on their profile and will decide to keep or remove the app based on profile box.
  3. Build in notification at every user engagement of your App. This will goto their friends and be displayed in your feed for all users to see. Keep the messaging of this feed item to communicate what your App is about, with a call for action for the new user to try. eg. Zombie does an awesome job on the profile box.
  4. Use your Canvas page with clean messaging about why one should try out the App, show as much stats as possible on the friend's network to build on the social influence to try out the app. eg Top Friends is a great example.
  5. Use the left bar below profile to show Apps Stats that builds intuitively into the social graph. eg. All Slide Apps do this well, Tyler has mastered this one well. The games apps that shows scores does this well and builds social pressure to try out the game to change your score or your position in your facebook network.
Firebox - A Web Platform for Developers

I want to expand this blog post to a meaningful comparison of Facebook and Firefox as a platform.

Firefox has taken the bold first move in launching
Rock Your Firefox App for Facebook.
It does an awesome job of offering a App environment to manage your add-ons an share favorites with friends etc.

Those of you who are at Mozilla24 today, can you share your ideas with me?
How many Firefox add-on developers are there? I want more than stats in understanding the real platform play.

Ping me on facebook or comment here or write to me, I'd love to expand this to a full post comparing Firefox and Facebook as platforms, are they complimentary where do they overlap, how do we see them converging or competing, what can we do today to get there?




Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What to expect at Facebook Developers Meetup?

Facebook Developers Meetup is a cool entrepreneurial group of people, all building facebook Apps, some for their work, most on their own!

The last FB Dev Meetup was hosted at Spock at Redwood City on Aug 30th 7pm.
30+ people showed up, and it was very informal led by Lawrence Sinclair, a quiet leader who let the group decide on the agenda. We had a round of intros and cool demos of Facebook Apps.

The group pitched in great ideas and brainstormed with each App developer.

Jay Bhatti co-founder of the people search engine Spock shared his enthusiasm about their Cartoon You Facebook App and how any user's attribute for the Cartoon in Facebook gets added as a tag to the user's Spock profile. The Spock Developer Wayne was modestly standing and spoke to everyone without pushing his App.

The Standford Duo Rob Fan and Brett Keintz were there with their 2 cool Apps - iheart and a cool game.

The audience has a mix of people building facebook apps, some business trying to understand whats a facebook app and what will make sense to build to extend their business to Facebook and many many smart people trying to figure out how to get into the Facebook Apps world.

Faraz came from enterprisetoolbar.com who has the product findit toolbar to find answer to the question, "can fb user use findit toolbar in some form?". Hui was building a multi user video chat upon david kings "vawkr technology". Sujee Maniyam (http://sujee.net/) wanted to learn about Facebook Apps building.
phil wong from oracle there to listen said Oracle was focused on Web2.0 at events.oracle. ccom
Mr. Clement Huang of Copacast has a targeting technology that can help monetize any community including FB App users was there, he was modest about his pitch and I wish I had learned more.

There is no official format for the evening and you can volunteer to show a demo of your facebook App.

Demo 1:
Courses App's presented by Michael Staton, experience shared with amazing honesty
Has 50K users, was teacher wanted o build something for students, courselist.
1. Get it out as soon as you can. Users are very forgiving.
15 yr old posted a courses app 12 hrs ahead of them and got users mindshare.
2. Make invite page first, come with a gimmick, throw a paper airplane at people.
3. Users will send message directly fast. He hears from lot of textbook sellers. Set aside time for outside communications. Its easy to get sidetracked with negotiations, lot of deals fall thru. but you need to followup to see which ones are good.
4. There are merging with another courses app textbook finder
5. Keep early adopters by messaging them personally.
6. People care about what goes on profile as lot , most user requests
7. Lots of app are about identity and social interaction.
8. Started before F8 when FBML was not yet announced, so build app in IFRAME APP, not FBML , we spend lot of time on CSS, gotto build friends finder etc.
He wanted to know if IFRAME excluded from Most Active App? Doesn't show in metrics as they index only one courses app.
9. Students care about - picking class, knowing who is in your class, picking profs more than actual course itself.
10. Its safe. No one can chat with any 15yr old, gotto be in the same class with them.
11. How did you spread your App when you got started?
Advertised on Scrabulous App.
Found major schools in terms of FB activity Penn State.
This App is long-term value Profs asking how to claim themselves as Prof $5.
Ad options Fb Exchange, Adonomics, Slide, RockYou.
12. How long did it take to build Course?
Moonlighting for 2 months, in retro can build it in 2 weeks. Didn't know they were Facebook was going to kill their own courses App and were not ready when there was a void. 4 people working on it part-time.

==
Demo2 - Ellen Leanse Cool New Lists Application (launching now as we speak!)
  • Ellen's background is Strategy, Branding work, social community work consulting
  • PDG Creative in midwest is developing for Ellen.
  • Project list or Grocery list or Packing list - work together and manage to-dos.
  • Very Cool drag an drop items, invite a person. (wiki style collaboration)
  • Build on IFRAME to make it drag and drop
  • Tie to events, cannot be used outside of Facebook.
  • Theres a business idea here, gotto validate and use it.
  • Show it profile box, yes or not was the open discussion to the group
  • Apps need to be viral. Make an app to share with friends
  • Voting on images is cooler. Create cool recommendation. Social pressures that your friends is less cooler. better ranking. (younger crowd)
Demo 3: Lawrence matchthis a recommendation Engine

  • Used on AC2 S3, reading and writing over network to S3, so bad performance.
  • matchthis - ask questions, feeds to a system and makes recommendation to connect with people you should connect to, feedback with agreement or disagreement.
  • Dating is a natural,political.
  • Once you want to expand beyond your network, you can use matchthis.
  • Very brainy algorithm and data massaging done, Lawrence was modest about his 6 mo effort on it so far.

Demo 4: Robert showed iheart
  • Two apps helps each other, another is a game
  • Robert is the most knowlegeable and articulate facebook developer who understands the social graphic and building product to tap into it.
  • Random selection of friends.
  • link to zazzle to make a t-shirt, link to other app (play game)
Demo 5: Voicemail and Zoo by Action

  • Zoo is such a colorful and fun app, EVERYONE loved it.
  • There was lot of suggestions and feedbacks to integrate voice into Zoo, which Action has got done already.
  • You send an animal to a friend for free, very viral.
  • How diff from tag app. Add fun and playfulness. Voicemail app was compared with Audiogift app.
  • What he did for viral spreading? Built a Monkey app to promote Zoo, people actually
  • facebook apps - these days you can cross promote apps like a link exchange.
Facebook meetup and inbetween: am excited about the next Facebook Developers Meetup.

I have have the privelage of getting beta previews of many cool apps build by my new facebook meetup friends. I have exercised my product management muscles by offering advice of messaging and product features to tap into the social graph.

I tried my hands at building my own test Facebook App using only FBML calls. Now I know why Dave McClure compares Facebook to Visual Basic.

Where to go from here?

I would like to get more educational discourse to help the new facebook developer covering topics on decisions they made on language, hosting platform, caching servers, finding their partners, beta testing, building viral functionality .....
Maybe we can have someone present on a topic and have a followup networking sessions in alternate meetup meetings? Do you like the idea? Are there others who think like me?

See you all tonight!





Saturday, August 25, 2007

Facebook Developers Garage - Build on FB as Platform

Facebook Developers Garage on Saturday Aug 25th 2007. rocked!!!! It was an awesome event with 300 developers all handon discussions at Facebook headquarters, with excitement in the air that we are all part of some new beginning.

Caitlin O'Farell of Facebook organized it and keep a smooth flow of the event. Thanks Caitlin!

10 min of Lightning Round presentations by real facebook App developers
Everyone sharing their experience building and scaling Apps was the highlight of the event as they had different viewpoints about scaling, my summary is below.

All in all, Facebook is in early stages as a development platform with great promise with many smart minds betting on it with lot of promise to bring the real promise of the web to provided hosted solutions with power to user communities and promise of building inter-operable applications building on each other, reducing development costs. Its left to us to build Applications that create fundamental value and create businesses here!

1. Tyler Ballance of Slide was a great speaker, spoke in depth about building apps thats scale:

* Choose the language you are most comfortable in - php, .net or rails Do not choose php because Facebook is built in php or rails because thats new.
* Focus on building App and getting it to users, don't write spagetti code, optimize later.
* Compartmentalize your business logic from interface layer, similar to any large software app during design.
* Facebook helps to scale Apps using social graph, so you may scale from 1 to 3Mil in a week, so focus on your database which can crash with too many hits, keep a simple schema, key on integers,
* FBML on canvas pages is easy to scale, it puts the load on Facebook servers and they fix quicker than App developers, your App doesn't have to fetch users name, profile etc. Cut unneccssay calls to Facebook API because if anything on facebook users blame you as they cannot tell the difference. eg. iframe
* With IFRAME/HTTP you never have absolute control. The disadvantage of using IFRAME is the need to call FB API a lot and it heightens load on your server. Also limitation on multi user access with FBfriend selecter so, Slide (tyler) built their own multi-friend seletor for Top Friends App.
* Use Browers processing to your advantage eg Flash on the browser, use Javascript even if slow, offers better user experience
* Keep in touch with new FB stuff, they are fixing and adding to our feedback.
* Most users are on FB for fun, checkout what friends are doing, leisure activity. integrate as much as possible with social graph.
* Someone asked about importing 3000 friends. Tyler said there is technical limitations in interacting with FB API they'll timeout so they did batch loads in Top friends.

2. Joyce of Booze-mail from Renkoo $1M users serving 1Million drinks served per day.

* Joyce had a different views from Type on software calls and perception of Facebook users behavior.
* She gave detailed of what backend they have to manage the load.
they use HAProxy as Loadbalancer- free open source one and 3 webservers on Amazon Web Services which is slow, old, not too much memory with problem for persistence.
* They use Heap Writes, denormalizing them.
* Added a tier of Image caching, They use "Vanish" not "MemcacheT" which was Tyler's favorite (so it appeared)
* Joyce thinks people will do more than the simple fun things of today on facebook, though Booze-mail is purely in that fun category.

3. Matt Culver of Amazon Web Services(AWS) spoke briefly about using AWS, it first appeared he was part of the Booze-mail team, but he was talking about Amazon Web Services for FB App developers.
* Most people in the room knew about Amazon Web Services so he just gave some pointers.
*Amazon EC2 - aws.amazon.com blog aws.typepad.com, wiki - evangelists.wetpaint.com and CTOS Who Use AWS, a group on Facebook. Interestingly this group has open discussions on AWS alternative and comparision with AWS.

4. Ali Partovi, CEO of ilike.com affirmed how Facebook was THE PLATFORM for anyone building any web business.
*They started as a dot come with ilike.com and their growth spiked once they decided to become a total facebook application business.
* They have 16 Engg, 100% of time spent on Facebook Platform
*Ali is very optimistic on Facebook as a platform and addressed some user's concerns. He said think of creating an entire business, not just another widget.
*Are you worried about dependency on Facebook?
He trusts current management team but says build interdependency with FB depends on us too so they won't compete.
* He said all business on any platform needs to think of sustainability so no one can replicate their business. Ilikes is building connection between parties - itunes and facebook, ticketmaster, platform for artists to create profiles on facebook. They offer a music api to add music to other apps which is stitching them into the Facebook ecosystem.

5. Courses - Michael and Joeseph spoke very honestly about their experience.
*Wish I could talk to myself the night I launched.
*Take lot of advice from slide.
*Common theme of the day from everyone was- put your app out there and see what works.
*Get mathametical with your app - track every link - where its coming from, every invitations, see whats works, whats not, adapt quickly to emphasise the stuff that works.
* Settings preview of profile boxes - let users know as users get desensitized by notification.
*Michael was teacher for 3 yrs, found it difficult to get students to get to use any technology, but students were connecting on Facebook so this was perfect to build course on FB.
*Users care about things you didn't know so listen to your discussion boards.
* He said "Slide is wrong, not just fun, facebook is going to become the center of how we organize different aspects of our life."
Personally it reminds me of the early days of the web when everyone defined it from their perspective.

*What rail server - mongrols, optimizing for scaling have lot of work to do! have 30K users. *Working on a tax application by the side.
* Mistakes -didn't launch quickly once Fb decided to get rid of their courses app.
Focus on one thing that your users care about.
*Two of us full-time older brother helping part-time at night.
*Fun - making invite page lot better. walker.com - video chatroom where people can get together and talk.
*Tracking - started by using Google Analytics, slowing us down, build your own analytics into app right at start.

6. Joe an Eric Diep - Quizzes interviews - 4 mil users

*Started at F8 launch party.
*Work independently - manage your time, set your own schedule;
*Wear a lot of hats. scale, develop, dedicate time to talk to people outside us,
*Don't worry about scale.
*Great opportunity to make something in 1 weeks effect.
*Your app is prototype, pay attention to user feedback, some user needs guidance.
*Track everything what works what doesn't.
* We have 4 boxes for servers
*How do u deal with imitiation app - with same name. Facebook allows app with same name which is an issue for all developers.
*important not to think about monetization -till u have users invested in your product, coming back.

7. James of Box.net

*James platform Director for Box.net
*Facebook - not going to be same in 2 years, getting ready for it.
*Users - learning - schools used CMS. connect learning in school and your social graph. *Edutainment games, tutoring, - all apps
*Opening Files App as a platform for developer on facebook.
*Apps to share docs and tags and description with other apps.
* Tyler compared with FB Datastore which came from Facebook. Looks like something Facebook launched similar to the App, which is going to be an issue if we build something that can be part of the FB core OS.

8. Rock You Lance Tokuda, CEO RockYou

* Gave good stats on distrinution of users for apps. 87% Apps have than 10K users
1% have Million+
*RockYou owns Super wall which has 4.8Mil users
* He gave a casestudy of how they helped Y! Music Videos scale.
Y! Music App had only 7K users in 1 month. RockYou ported same source code and added viral features got 900K users in couple weeks.
What they did:
- Cross sell apps network got 100K users
- Virality , integrated with superwall,
* Lance gave a framework of designing good Facebook Apps
a) New users - simple linear flow, min steps to configure apps, provide defaults (min work)
b)Engage friends
Engage on invite- strong call for action
Ideal is when friends want to engage all friends
ongoing engagement - trigger events to invite friends or connect with them.
c) virality
Strong call to action for receiver
d)Integration with other Apps - cross sell existing user base
eg. likeness - quiz related to music


peter louis who developed superwall was there to talk to everyone.

* Louis announced Superwall API - All media types supported images, video, flash.
==
9. Chris Chan - Causes 3M users.
*Decision - name causes has a positive feel.
*Looks like Facebook (not separate branding), credibility with same font size, style.
* Decided to accept donations
*Viral flow - show cause page without adding app. If you shorten viral play too much, users won't understand what the apps is about.
* Tech - Asynchronous, reduce depenedency on Facebook. Stats we track and update, separate from user requests. Hired SQL consultant helped.
*F8 Story - Blake built zombie and vampires and chris. 10 days launched at F8 at 2pm.
$300K for donations, its 10cents per user. Testing is like eating vegetables.


User Announcements

1. VC view (didn't catch the VCs name, will check my notes and update): People will come, Facebook users are going to be worth $10/user so everyone should build apps for facebook.

2. Worth checking out collegewikis.com


Dave @ Facebook summarized the day, then there was Pizza, networking and a round of indepth technical discussions.

Dave's summary talks about Facebook's welcoming attitude towards users and builds trust to build on Facebook as the next platform.

He says, users drive growth for apps, listening to community and adapt. Some apps are building an ecosystem of services offering interoperability between communities, which is very exciting for Facebook, which he calls "Value center community" so he encouraged everyone to build a suite of apps like Rockyou.


PS: I'll upload my photos from the event on FB later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Animoto - Making videos in 5 minutes Awesome

Found this cool technology to make videos so easily in 5 minutes!



A new startup Animoto, based out of NY has come with a cool technology.

Its child play - What is video - you pick some pictures, add some music mix them, make the pictures move and become a video! Add 15 pictures and in 5 minutes you get a video!

Awesome!!! Personally I was prepared for funky UI and no help and Animoto pleasantly surprised me. Its clean UI, seamless experience with decent help message on the side.

I emailed them and got good support response too.

You can see the depth of thinking behind the technology and productizing it. They offer the choice to use your own images, or pick it up from Flickr or anywhere on the web. They allow you to post the video on any blog or myspace etc. I am going to add this to my Facebook for sure!

Only limitation now is that they seamlessly log into my Flickr account but don't allow me to pickup public Flickr pictures to make a video. Appears more a decision not to get to get into copyright issues!

They have free 30 sec video (you can get a feel for BarCamp with this video), or you can upgrade to make longer movies. They allow private sharing of videos or uploading for public sharing. Intutive interface instead of the standard public and private views! They have teasers of what all is coming in the pipeline so you can take the video to your ipod or burn a CD I guess.

Animoto has great promise, has lot of startup energy, smells of success and fun. Sure viral play, so we are going to see a lot of Animotos soon. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

BarCampBlock - Thank You! Tara you are Ms.BarCamp!

I've been to BarCamp Boston and Manchester, but it was a totally new experience going to BarCampBlock in Palo Alto, where it all started.

I spent more time on the block than sessions and learned a lot! The beauty of BarCamp is that each person takes something different based on what they are focused on and what they contribute!

Great Organization to the team and Ms.BarCamp Tara!
My previous topics at Barcamp Boston has been about taking a concept to business and raising money. I decided to go with an open mind and not talk about the same topic.

Thanks to Tara, Chris, Tantek, Ross and Liz on great organization. The energy all over the block was amazing and contagious. Tara would be talking to a group, and keep an eye to refill drinking water and food to keep us all fed. She is amazing, and is Ms.BarCamp!

Utream.tv captures the chaos and energy as everyone rushed to the grid to build the conference schedule on the fly!



Brian Solis has done justice to cover the people of the crowd! Missed Robert Scoble sneaking out of his non-blog week :-)

Lawrence Sinclair was a star as he instantly brought together a bunch of Facebook App Developers and formed a co-working group to develop more cool Apps.

Its an understatement to say that I met most of the people who I've got to know in the first 6 months of my valley visits all here at BarCampBlock.

One has to experience BarCampBlock to know how being a techi is cool here, being an entrepreneur is great, and everyone gets to action to brainstorm and collaborate in real time to create the thriving silicon valley culture!

I've been bitten by the "Facebook As a Platform" bug recently and some of Dave McClure's tests on Facebook and it influenced my view of what hallway sessions and BarCamp sessions I participated in.

Sessions - So much to choose, so little time

So many sessions covering so many topics! Too bad I don't have a Time turner like Hermoine so, can't time travel to attend two parallel sessions.

I presented a session on "Social Media Optimization (SMO) for Facebook" which had 40+ audience in the Socialtext co-working room, with a whiteboard and great conversations.

The Wikipedia definition of SMO is broad. I focused on SMO for Facebook App Developers. What to utilize of current Facebook API and support to make your App on Facebook to reach users with clean UI, messaging, target users and influencers of your space and create viral play.

I had fun and left with more things to think about and made more friends on Facebook :-)

Session Summaries

Nelz has done a great job of summarizing sessions I missed!

I liked the session on "Future of Widgets" by Shawn Van Itersum, Product Manager of Clearspring, a Widget development platform.

He had a session on intro to Widget in the morning. The afternoon one had great conversations. Rashmi of Slideshare.net had great questions on widget analytics which are issues I have faced.

Clearspring offers a Widget development platform for developers. I am not sure how it compares with going with RockYou for Widgets or the Gigya Widget distribution platform. Shawn was a good presenter and made a compelling case for Clearspring so I am going to check them out for sure!

The discussion was not about his company but about widgets and problems of supporting widgets for multiple platforms, distribution etc. Clearspring is mostly available for content widgets on Myspace. There was some discussion about Widgets for the blogosphere.

All in all, a day spent well, worth pondering year long till next years's BarCamp.

Update: Brad Templeton of EEF was there. Gotto join EEF to donate using causes App.
Had great conversations with Nate (CTO) of Pbwiki.

Friday, August 17, 2007

BarCamp Block Sat and Sun

I am going to BarCamp Block in Palo Alto tommorrow (Sat), Tara Hunt seems to be doing all the work like at Web2Open.

I stepped in the world of BarCamps first at Boston BarCamp and helped organize one, spoke on technology commercialization on the fly, and went to Manchester BarCamp where I presented Building the Business Side of a Business.

This is the first one in the valley, Tara has said 900 have signedup, don't see much people on the wiki as they the attendees profiles are on Crowdvine, which I've not learned to use much yet but exited at the randomness and real time makeup of the conference!!!

Do say hello if you are at BarCamp tomorrow.

Facebook Seeded Entreprenerialism

I met 10 people at Facebook Developers Meetup last night at Neto in Palo Alto and saw 3 cool Apps not formal demos, but entreprenurial feedback sessions on future plans - Zoo by Action, ulinkx by Saket and a stealth mode professional networking App by two guys who moved from NY to launch a cool FB App . Dave Westwood had great experience from Myspace and helped us make the connection to Facebook as the new platform.

I came back excited remembering the day I first saw the Mozilla Browser and the Web revolution began.

For the past few months, I've had my share of Facebook hype stories and ideas for Facebook Apps for startups I am associated with and exposure to old business types analyzing like many analyzed the Web as it shifted and morphed and grew and crashed and was reborn.

Heres my new revelation why I believe Facebook with it semi-open platform is a real business here to stay and threaten the existing Web ecosystem only to help new entrepreneurs:

1. Facebook offers a UI platform with built-in viral play so anyone can build an App on FB and instantly get viral play within its network. The web is full of smart techies who want to build technology cooler than the next person, but no technology is sustainable business by itself.
So every App builder needs to market it. FB offers instant viral play just by building on its platform.

2. I think today, times are analogous to the early days of creating a web site when Yahoo was manually indexing them in their home page. My favorite FB App Booze-mail got 200K users within 2 weeks with no marketing.

3. Everyone loves Google for its cool search, but what made them a business and the biggest brand we all wake up to is their Ad business helping big and small businesses by bringing their customers to their sites. Facebook is a real threat to Google in that App developers are flocking to FB to park their new tech ideas to allow FB to send users their way to start building dependency on FB as we did with Google.

4. Theres an entrepreneur in every creative person, especially ones who can code as a way of expressing themselves. Facebook makes it cheap to build an App and get started with user traction. Not a full business, still a great start!

5. I have smart friends who are watching on the sidelines questioning the proprietary platform on limitations of access control and ability to personalize a user's experience in an Application environment. I agree the FB Apps I have seen so far (not including the ones I saw last night at the FB Developers Meetup and the App Cause) are playful ones as a test App built by smart techies.

Its the beginning, some Apps make an hybrid using the FB platform as the UI and lead to a Web site. Others are building robust backend systems with FB as the UI platform to benefit from the viral play.

Facebook has to open up a lot and make many important decisions to become a Google and not Netscape, but it looks promising that we can all be part of building the social operating system stitching our Apps to create a new ecosystem here.

Its exciting as the beginning of some real outlet for technical expertise with a business window to reach users to validate your idea. Welcome to Facebook Seeded Entrepreneurialism.

Be sure to checkout Dave McClure's comments on the hype around VCs investing in Facebook and the real venture fund focused on Facebook Apps - AppFactory run by Salil Deshpande.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

DEMO Alumni and the Pleasure of a Startup Launch

I didn't realize I was part of yet another network of people connected by the tag "DEMO Alumni" till recently as there was a DEMO Alumni party last night:-)

I had launched Coola at DEMO in 2000. Launching at DEMO has been a life changing, career changing for sure, experience for me.

Chris Shipley has been working for 20 years identifying new technologies and providing a beautiful launch pad with DEMO conferences.

I have the greatest respect for her eye for spotting promising technologies and winning teams. You can see the list of successful companies who launched at DEMO and exited or IPOed. For those who do not exit their first startup, you can still see future success of the same founders.

Chris Shipley helps shape the business concept by asking smart questions, listening and helping the teams figure out their blind spots and package the company with a clear launch checklist which makes DEMO a fun and unique event and going to DEMO an exciting time for all DEMO companies.

Recently I've been involved in the DEMO process (hush, can't tell you anymore now) and am impressed at how well-oiled an engine it is with a weekly calendar listing deliverables to get ready to launch for DEMO. This will help the new kids from school who come with a cool technology to define launch with such a high bar set getting ready their product, web site, brand identity, press kits, getting ready with all aspects of launch marketing, DEMO presentation honing your pitch and Exhibit Stall to showcase your product and a media wish list for targeted PR.

I think of getting to present in DEMO as setting high your standards on the business side of your business and a good start for anybody's career.

My favorite DEMO Alumni serial entrepreneurs are Vincent Paquet and Craig Walker, who build Dialpad, sold to Y!, most recently build Grandcentral sold to Google. I've been a Grandcentral fan right from the start and noticed how they set about meticulously building their company, stitching themselves into the ecosystem, scaling site content to show company growth and incrementally improving user communications all DEMO style.

Hope to see you at DEMO again and next year at the DEMO party!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Conflict Management in Startups

How many times have you seen it as an entrepreneur that you toil to build your dream startup and a new hire comes in and suddenly there is chaos and conflict and decisions seems to loop around without going towards your milestone, especially a outbound market facing milestone?

Every startup team has to go through this process several time as you scale your team. The first time is essentially painful.

You have new people, new directions, new challenges as past blind-spots are exposed or from simple chaos of communication and at maintaining speed. Looking back, I have always found that it has been good. But when it happens it feels like a twister with no way to get out of it.

I recently saw a familiar discussion between engineering and marketing to get a company logo right getting a startup ready for launch. I have seen this thrice before at different startup environments. My being aware of the nuances of what happens did not help me speed the cycle or mend broken hearts as passions spiraled to get the best logo for the startup.

I have seen the same about getting ready for the first real customer sales or a company launch. Listing all tactical work or being aware of the team dynamics from the past does not seem to stop me from watching the same people dynamics.

What I have learned to do is to challenge strong emotions of conflicts to work "for" the company and not against it.

What we can do is create an environment where confrontation is encouraged to get issues on the topic, keep the focus on issues not people and let the passions run high towards results.

When the end result is achieved, be it a product launch or that first sale, the team bonding that happens and the confidence amongst the waring team members and the company as a whole is worth all the pain you would go through this.

As an entrepreneur, when you see such an conflict in the early stages of the company, you have an opportunity to create a positive company culture and create corporate memory and confidence to solve future unknown problems by being able to brainstorm, handle criticism and come out as a winner with a better team product.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Entrepreneur Charge - Meet Sumaya Kazi

I have been a reader of this blog called thedesiconnect.com and seen it evolve and grow into an online magazine for the past 2 years. What amazed me is their adapting to the market in simple ways by adding features and bringing in new additions to their team, relentlessly perfecting their site and newsletter magazine.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the founder Sumaya Kazi, 24 year old female charged with energy and an amazing clarity if her ideas of team building and great dreams for making the world a better place.

Sumaya has organically scaled her team geographically spread over the world, all working part-time renumerated by pure passion for their common project - the desiconnect that scaled and grew to theculturalconnect.com including latinconnect, africanaconnect and middleastconnect.com

Many of you may have seen Sumaya on CNN, she is an example of building startup energy with great team, focus and passion. Her passion is not big business models, making money, eyeballs - simply following her heart to change the typecast of different cultures and creating role models for all to follow.

Hope this inspires all of us to march ahead with our dreams for ideas we are passionate about.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Viral Play by Jason Feffer founder of Myspace

Jason Feffer co-founder of Myspace is speaking at Community Next conf at Sunnyvale about Viral Marketing history.

Viral at Myspace started 4 yrs ago internally with 4 employees to 180 employees today.
Happy users tell 3 friends, unhappy or critcal ones tell 11.
UI was one that attracted users. Focus was to give tools starting with emails, their own URLs etc.
We got bad press bringing unwanted attraction because of the controversy about predators on Myspace. Fef says they worked very hard to clean these up, but it attracted media with controversial stories about underage kids on Myspace, and how schools and parents very concerned. Myspace had to deal with it and it got *lot* of users.

What they did purposefully:
1. Recognized Myspace users were people who like to be exhibitionists, so focused to give them tools to tell their friends about themselves, not to tell about Myspace.
1 Exhibitionist brought 5000 users easily when it worked.Picked up when bands started using Myspace to market their band.

2. Don't lose control of your brand to others. Myspace turned down free promoter options to use Myspace brand and create parties.

3. Messaging focused on entertainment, not technology. So focused on right press. Stayed in LA just for that.

4. How they handled Fake profiles - restricts on terms of service, but if users brought real content good for the community, it was fine. If P&G came and created fake profiles, we'll work with them to make their profiles as real branded.

5. Niche Targeted Marketing - How did they focus in the beginning? Initial target was 10M users for Ad revenues but Jason thought 8M users seemed too much. In the beginning you don't need too many hard core users, because they will bring many many of their friends and scale. Focus on being vertical focused and help that base of users spread the world.

Jason's new startup is Sodahead, - check it out, he is in early stage consciously applying all his learning from Myspace.


Jason's advice is on focus on target suers, focus on everything around that. Lending Club used Facebool API only to launch its beta. Today there are a lot of widgets, use it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Business Model Blunders

I built my first startup Coola from Boston but traveled to Silicon Valley often for business partnerships and eventually scaled half my team there.

Living in the valley now, I meet someone from my startup days and it brings back nostalgia of the early day entrepreneur in me, and most important, reminds me of mistakes I wish I had avoided :-)

What is amazing is how I got good advice but did not seem to have internalized it then and I just get it these days. I still see entrepreneurs hungry to surround themselves with advisors but not benefiting from their experiences fully. Sometimes it inevitable, because we each have to grow as entrepreneurs from within, sometimes its our attitudes which limits us.

My biggest blunder was my search for our business model. This has helped me find a sweetspot in helping startups scale from a concept to their first customers, but its the same path everytime.

Here is my attempt to capture finding a business model for your startup, please let me know if you have more to add to this or different experiences to share.

Your dream becomes a business only when you find the right business model that brings your revenues.

What is a business model: It simply means knowing who your customers are and how they are going to pay you and why.


Where to start looking at the best business model for an idea?

First, there are lot people who are strategists who can come with lot of possibilities when you present your idea.

It is creative thinking coupled with years of experience looking at different business models that worked or failed for other companies in the past.

Venture Capitalists usually do this well, mostly in pointing a parallel business and how a particular business model failed for someone.

You need to seek friends and advisors who get charged about your idea and can brainstorm wild possibilities of who could use your solution.

Avoid blind spots in finding your business model:

Avoid blind spots of your own or your advisors in following a particular business model by force fitting it into your idea against the competencies of your team.

I have seen the same idea executed as two different businesses because of the passion of the founders for a particular market.

I came across many strategists during my early startup days; most were consultants.

If you look closer, you'll find most of these consultants have certain type of business and business models that they deep down believe, maybe because it worked for some other client or because of their background.

For example, when we came up with Coola technology to make information mobile. Since the founders came from a software background, we first thought of web businesses as our customers and the optimum deployment as a hosted solution. My partner had extensive experience in databases and financial systems, so he built a server to integrate with variety of corporate servers.

We came across a VC who had experience in email market. He was ready to invest in us if we changed our business model to make our technology over email.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the way of coming up with business models for new idea that marries strategy with execution.

Steps to Find your Business Model:

1. Ask yourself "what is my fixed and what is my variable" in my business. This will help to understand what is the core part of your business that you want to build as your core IP and competitive advantage in the long run.

For example, if we look at a photo site like shutterfly.com, is their fixed the technology for sharing, operations of printing quality pictures, or the community they built with loyalty to come back as repeat customers.

If they decide the community is their fixed, that will help decide to be a destination site, focus on user acquisitions, and help plan activities around building loyalty to such a community. If on the other hand they decide their technology and fulfillment is their fixed, they'd work on their site design to lock in visitors and can go about signing partnerships with the portals to do co-branded deals to bring in customers.

2. Insert yourself into the existing eco-system. Find partnerships, technology integrations, co-marketing deals, but make sure it is all revenue generating for both parties.

If you look closely at the news, you can see how Google became famous because Yahoo chose them as their search engine when Yahoo did not have search. Today Yahoo and Google are competing for AOL and every other key players partnership to tie them some sustainability into the web eco-system.

Beware of revenue sharing deals when you cannot clearly calculate where the revenue is coming from. We had a deal with Boston.com but spent a lot of time with web business that wanted to do revenue share deals when either of us could not see where real money came from.

It is easy to get carried away by examples of large players and how they have grown with revenue share deals, but think critically about the customer paying you, for your small business to you or your partner and why.

3. Every idea given to different teams will make different businesses. It depends on what core competencies exist in your team.

Where is your strength? Are you server or client side people? Do you have competency in awesome content creation? You can always hire people with other skills, but where is the core of the top team who are going to drive this?

4. VCs always ask for a rounded team and beam if you have team and advisors from the vertical you are targeting.
You will have to know the nuances of the vertical you are targeting, so experience in that segment will go a long way. So, even if several verticals are possible when you brainstorm and do a blue-sky scenario, focus on the one where you have real experience in your team and can execute.

5. If you know your fixed, its great to dream, don't let it hamper your quick execution in the immediate future.

I love this quote:
" Every morning in the jungle a lion and a gazelle wake up and start running. The lion will survive only when it runs faster than the slowest gazelle gazelle will survive only when it can run faster than the fastest lion"

In the startup world, it is not the greatest idea that wins, it is the one who runs the fastest.

So good luck to finding your winning business model and to run fast to win.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google Gadgets Ventures

I am at Marissa Mayers keynote at Searchonomics Conference in Santa Clara.

She just announced "Google Gadgets Venture".

Make Google Gadgets with Gadgets Maker (which was previously available only for developers) open anyone.

Showcase on Google Homepage for users to select.

If you get more than 250K page views per week, Google will pay $5K funding.
Use this and build a business plan and can qualify for seed money of $100K.

Marissa says Google sees Google Gadgets growing a who industry like SEO and Ad Sense done earlier by Google.

Searchonomics Wed 27th

Hi Readers,

I'll be at Searchonomics on Wed, no I am not going to the Techcrunch party in the evening.

I've added a new amung.us stats widget that tracts concurrent users of the blog, I don't know if its me, there are many cool stats options for behaviorial targeting these days. Mybloglog is still my favorite. Theres plenty of startup opportunities to do real behaviorial targeting to help people solve real problems.

Hope to see some of you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Path to Startup Success

Do you know what is worse than failure? A mediocre success!!!

In the startup world where the only race is against time, I am amazed at how often I find great ideas covered in a maze without clear focused execution.

I've written about how the early days of an entrepreneur are unstructured. The beauty of a startup environment is the limitlessness and ability to arrive at solutions for everything. When you scale a team to more than 3 or get a real customer, chaos sets in.

The positive side of this is the startup energy. But every startup gets surrounded by a lot of well-wishers sending a lot of people to help the startup.

The single most success factor of an entrepreneur's success depends on the ability to separate the good, not from the bad, but well-meaning mediocre people!!!

In the early days, in the race against time, each referral to a person who does not bring in better people or direct access to an amazingly mind-blowing solution will bring the company to a mediocre success.

What I mean by this is that, everyone in the startup can spend 80 hours a week and be creative to find solutions in their field. If they allow mediocre people to mislead them one at a time, very soon, its hard to differentiate the efforts that are not worth pursuing to the ones that lack processes or people and this chaos will seep into the energy of the startup.

These people may come in the form of advisor's friends, vendors and employee referrals.

If we look around at companies that are successful, you can see the growing energy and in spite of any media created buzz, you can see a real successful company by the real company it keeps.

All entrepreneurs love to hear people who love their idea and believe in them. What you need to watch out for is that you don't surround yourself with people who keep talking about how they love your idea without helping towards execution.

As the team grows past 3 people, I think getting company wide milestones with dates and dependencies and tracking them may seem a little bureaucratic at start, but will help in keeping the transparency on the real progress based on data. I am not suggesting company meetings, such a milestone can be on a wiki or can be a business metric tracked by everyone.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Google Developers Day 2007 - Jeff Huber Keynote from San Jose

I am at Jeff Huber's keynote. Its been slow so far, bringing everyone upto speed on all of Google's developer tools and API.

One interesting one is mapplets = google gadgets API + google Mashups API. I'd love to see real cool Apps, the demos were just ok.

Here is Google Gears - sounds promising. I maybe seeing big dreams because of my background of the big vision to make all Applications Mobile with my first startup Coola in 99.

Othman Larakin, the product manager is presenting.

- Access to Apps online and offline.
- Google Reader Offline allows you to download last 2000 RSS feed messages for offline access.
- Adobe has been everywhere, I saw Kevin Lynch last week at Saleforce Developers Day. He is here now showing Apollo and Gears.
I already love Apollo and Flex. Kevin's demo is very indepth, better than all the Google demos before him, more by his passion, tempting us to develop on Apollo. Kevin is promising to integrate their APIs with Google Gears API.

I am a tech entrepreur and involved as advisor of many cool tech startups. So I look at every event and presentation from that perspective. So look for an opportunity for your startup in all this to create differentiation, take you closer to other smart startups to collaborate and make even smarter products and services and have fun through it all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Web2.0 Aquisition spree and Google Dev Day

Fox Interactive buys Photobucket for $300M, Ebay buys Stumbleupon for $75M all cash (according to techcrunch), CBS buys Last.fm for $280M all in 1 day! Wonder who Y! is talking for acquisition, cyworld maybe?

All these aquisitions are valued on consumer user numbers, wonder how many overlap.

Personally I don't see these as bubbles or consolidations, but the competitive market is heating up and all the big players are looking for strategic advantage with the supported user base, so good technology is in and user numbers is the validation.

I am heading to Google Developers Day today, which has been moved to San Jose Convention Center to hold 5000 people where Google will announce Google gears and they are smart to have it available for Mac (yay!)

Energy of Linkedin Team and listening to the market

I attended Lunch2.0 at Linkedin last week. I love the energy of startup teams, so needless to say that I could associate a face to linkedin which is a product I love and use a lot, was exciting.

Couple of surprises!

- Linkedin has 11 million users and has 100 employees. As an entrepreneur the number of employees in a company and who does what always fascinates me. Linkedin started out as a consumer platform and after a period of lull, added cool UI features and downloads. It has not splashed dollars on much PR, and it shows in the organic growth and the type of excited marketing people they have.

There was contagious energy in the room from the linkedin team, adding to the fact that Guy Kawasaki and Justin Kan of Justin.tv were there.

- Allen, co-founder and the VP of Products spoke about their vision of the product and was open to hear market feedback. One fascinating observation is that linkedin product folks thought we should not connect to anyone we do not absolutely know as the spirit of the product was to help the consumer connect with maybe 100 people they know well. I respect the privacy of anyone who does not want to add everyone to their network, I do not seek out strangers to connect, but thought bulk of linkedin was built on strangers connecting to reach into each other's networks.

This prompts me to write here because startups start with a vision to solve a problem, products are built, but companies take a life of their own with two factors pulling them outbound and shaping them to the business they evolve into -
1. Customers who pay, drive the attention and resources of the company. In linkedin there was a huge business operations group which brings revenues.

2. Marketing, focusing on viral play, especially for successful web products drive viral features. Linkedin grew virally only because people could invite others so easily with their support for uploading outlook calendars and because recruiters contact strangers to connect to their networks to expand the reach of their linkedin networks.

The day before lunch2.0, I was at Shally Steckerl's presentation at HRCA at Y!. I went to learn the recruiter's market and understand their needs and pains. Shally gave an amazing presentation showing tools and technique for recruiters to find their candidates. Shally was an expert search engine user and I learnt a lot.

Shally is a linkedin fan and gave his email for all to connect to him on linkedin saying he could reach 7 million of the 11 million linkedin users. During the weekend I was at TIECON where a Y! VP after a panel told a swarming crowd that he would accept all linkedin invitations. So I don't know but I suddenly keep hearing about linkedin as a way of life.

Its evangelists like Shally who drive the user adoption of linkedin and recruiters who pay as customers.

I left with the feeling that the 100 people of linkedin were hungry and looking to scale much larger and think of their product as nimble and in early stages than 11 million of us see it in our daily lives.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Empowering People thru Entrepreneurship by Ebay's Meg Whitman at TIECON2007

Meg Whitman gave an awesome keynote session at TIECON 2007 at Santa Clara Convention Center Sat May 19th, 2007.

First, I loved how down to earth Meg was and very personable with a honesty in her answers.

Meg presented lot of stats about Ebay as a business. Interesting she sorted it as the core ebay auction business, craigslist, paypal and skype.

Her lessons on leadership were inspiring:

- Right person for the right job at the right time with the right values
- Reorganize early and often (change is good and keeps you alert)
- Hire ahead of the curve
- Focus - she mentioned art of exclution not inclusion.
- Mission motivates
- Get out enough - meet customers, goto conferences, stay in touch with market.

One theme that resonated throughout the talk was "Don't compromise your integrity". She said to cultivate this in the company she tells her staff"would you make this same decision if your mother or sister or kid was in the room?", that would serve as a guiding principle to always make decisions with integrity.

More on leadership that has worked for her always, that can help all entrepreneurs:
- Enable, don't direct
- Its always about customer experience
- Level the playing field often
- Make size an advantage (for large companies)
- Distruptive Ideas are vital (she calls people in companies who are good at distruption and innovation and not structured execution as "baby tigers" and says companies should promote them among all the big structured managers)
- Constant innovation of core business should come from within (its an mindset,its in the DNA, cannibalization doesn't scare Ebay)

She had a piece of advice for women entrepreneurs and CEOs (woman and men) to let go, the ability to not be a perfectionist in all your roles as parent, spouse, home maker will help to get more productive in all of them.

All in all a very inspiring and intellectually stimulating hour spent well that will linger in our minds for a long time!